Published March 18, 2024

It was just a little more than sixteen years ago, in early 2008, when Carolyn Cades joined us as a program associate with the Virginia Folklife and African American Programs.

In many ways, it was kismet, fulfilling a goal she had formed shortly after moving to Charlottesville four years prior: “I had Virginia Humanities on my radar,” she said. “I saw all the wonderful things that the organization was doing, and I wanted to be part of it.”

Headshot of Carolyn Cades, outgoing Senior Associate Director of Grants at Virginia Humanities. She smiles in front of the Cuatlacuatl mural at our headquarters.
Carolyn Cades, outgoing Senior Associate Director of Grants at Virginia Humanities, smiles in front of the Cuatlacuatl mural at our headquarters. Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities

As a graduate of the English Literature program at Wesleyan University, where she also studied abroad in France, Carolyn has long been passionate about the humanities. She said that reading and literature were her entry points to the set of disciplines, but her interest quickly broadened through her professional experiences, including a two-year turn at the UVA Rare Book School.

Over her time with us, Carolyn progressed from her initial role to program associate with Virginia Indian Programs and then Assistant Director and subsequently Associate and finally Senior Associate Director of Grants. She said that her program associate positions undoubtedly made her “more conscious of what communities could benefit from our grantmaking,” but that she felt most at home with her responsibilities in the Grants department.  

“Everyone … could sense her openness; her interest in whatever it was they needed or were offering; and her willingness to help.”

David Bearinger, former Director of Grants

Her work involved helping nonprofits navigate the grant seeking process by answering questions about selection criteria and assessing whether potential grantees’ aspirations for their project made them a good match for our Grants program. As our first point of contact with potential grantees, and as a constant source of feedback and encouragement throughout the application process, Carolyn leaned heavily on her “exceptional powers of empathy,” explained David Bearinger, former Senior Director of Grants. 

“Everyone—from first-time applicants to seasoned grantees; from academic experts to members of Indigenous and immigrant/refugee communities across the state—could sense her openness; her interest in whatever it was they needed or were offering; and her willingness to help,” David said of his colleague for many years. 

When thinking about her fondest memories of her work with us, the collegiality of Carolyn’s coworkers comes to mind first: “The creativity and awareness of my colleagues has always been a source of awe. They are a great group of people with strong interests and a real awareness of the world. And I always have learned from my colleagues.”  

Another highlight of her career was the opportunity that her position offered her to learn about her adopted state and its history.  

“It’s a very complicated, sometimes fraught history,” she affirmed, “and I think that having the opportunity to learn the stories within the stories is something that I wouldn’t have experienced had I not come to Virginia Humanities. At times it’s sobering, at times it’s joyful, but it’s always enlivening and compelling to learn those stories.” 

Carolyn speaks at Long’s Chapel at Zenda in 2008, when a historical marker was erected by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Carolyn greets visitors while tabling in 2010.

Carolyn’s caring and thoughtful work with us was indispensable to our goal of sharing the stories of all Virginians—or, better yet, finding ways for people to share their own stories. 

“Sometimes people don’t necessarily value the work that they’re doing in their communities until somebody recognizes it,” she said. “I see our grantmaking as a way to uplift communities and individuals, both through funding and formal recognition.”  

By partnering with diverse communities throughout Virginia to amplify their stories, Carolyn’s lasting impact spans far beyond just the nonprofit organizations and projects she worked with. These powerful stories and the audiences that continue to learn about them through the projects funded by our Grants program are forever connected by Carolyn’s work.  

Former Board Member Lauranett Lee takes a selfie with Carolyn and her husband Daniel in 2017. Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities

As we wish Carolyn all the best in her retirement and express our gratitude for the impact of her sixteen years with us, David’s reflections on her contributions provide an apt description of her lasting influence.  

“On paper, Carolyn’s position was one of ‘support,’ but ‘support’ quickly came to mean partnership and collaboration—a sense of common purpose and shared investment in the work we both felt privileged to be doing. Her work was crucial and essential to these programs’ success, and so was the Spirit she brought to it: A Spirit of service.”

Our work brings people together and honors our shared humanity.